Tymoshenko Bolsters Democratic Image In US

KIEV, Ukraine -- Firebrand female politician Yulia Tymoshenko traveled to the United States Feb. 28 for a several-day visit, hoping to confirm her unofficial title as the leader of Ukraine’s democratic movement and gain points at home and abroad against her lackluster political opponents: Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and President Viktor Yushchenko.

Tymoshenko is a charismatic leader who has a strong chance to become Ukraine's next President

During her Washington trip, Tymoshenko was scheduled to meet with US Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The high-ranking meetings mirror the level of diplomatic treatment granted to Yanukovych during a Washington trip last December.

Yanukovych also met with Cheney and Rice during that trip, intended to justify his government’s controversial policies, which include a cautious approach to NATO integration initiatives backed by the US leadership.

Yushchenko was accepted with highest honors by President George Bush during his last trip to the US in April 2005, following the Orange Revolution that brought him to power.

Since then, he has lost much of his authority on foreign and domestic policy to Yanukovych’s governing coalition, and his role as the country’s democratic messiah has been questioned.

Yanukovych’s trip was overshadowed by a dispute with Yushchenko over leadership at the country’s Foreign Ministry that left many diplomats wondering which leader was in charge of foreign policy.

Both Yushchenko and Yanukovych remain caught up in a wrestling match over authority on top government posts and policy. As confusion in diplomatic circles persists with respect to who is calling the shots in Kyiv, the ambitious Tymoshenko is scoring political points on the domestic front and hopes to convince powerbrokers abroad that she is a capable partner on the Ukrainian arena.

One of her goals will be to revamp her image as a radical and power-hungry populist politician. She is also trying to rub off the view of being a loose cannon on the economic front, a reputation that has stuck to her since her days spearheading the calls for re-privatization while prime minister in 2005.

“As an unwavering supporter of freedom and democracy in Ukraine, I look forward to returning to the birthplace of these historic principles,” Tymoshenko announced before her departure.

Tymoshenko, who played a major role in rallying protestors during the Orange Revolution, but was fired as prime minister in 2005 after a bitter falling out with Yushchenko, is also looking forward to the country’s 2009 presidential elections.

In the short term, the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (Byut) is pushing for early parliamentary elections, in which it would be expected to do even better than the 22 percent, or second place, that it got in the 2006 parliamentary vote.

Recent opinion polls have put Tymoshenko way ahead of Yushchenko. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc came in third during last year’s parliamentary poll.

Tymoshenko is currently running neck and neck in the polls with Yanukovych, the villain of the 2004 presidential elections, whom Yushchenko fatefully accepted as premier last summer.

“We believe that after the Orange Revolution and the comeback of the old political teams, the world stopped understanding Ukraine. I am going to the United States to make Ukraine more understandable to the outside world,” Tymoshenko said in Kyiv.

Tymoshenko’s US trip, her first as a major political figure, has been carefully timed, according to political analyst Andriy Yermolayev.

Byut and Yushchenko’s increasingly divided Our Ukraine party signed an opposition agreement on Feb. 24, thereby creating a counterweight to the aggressive parliamentary majority consisting of the Communists, the Socialists and the prime minister’s Regions party.

Yushchenko, who has had most of his powers snatched from him by Yanukovych, could only welcome the move by Tymoshenko, who continues to win over former Our Ukraine supporters.

“I approve and appreciate the unification of opposition forces in the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] as an important pre-requisite to withstand the systemic and open violation of Ukraine’s Constitution and current laws,” the president said in a letter made public by his press service.

“She is going to present herself as Ukraine’s new democratic leader to the world’s lead democracy,” said Yermolayev, who emphasized the symbolism behind Tymoshenko’s visit in her role in reuniting the pro-Western Orange political camp.

In a last-minute twist, Tymoshenko cancelled a scheduled appearance at Columbia University in New York on Feb. 26. Her press service belatedly attributed the cancelled appearance to illness.

But high-profile meetings with American politicians are still scheduled.

Taras Pastushenko, deputy head of Byut’s press service, said Tymoshenko will meet with top senators, including Republican leaders Richard Lugar and John McCain, a presidential candidate. A meeting with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is also possible, he said.

Byut’s press service said the Ukrainian opposition leader would meet with members of the Ukrainian Diaspora, who overwhelmingly sided with Orange parties against Yanukovych in 2004. In contrast, Yanukovych shunned encounters with Ukrainian Diaspora during his US trip in December.

The Washington visit will also include speeches at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the National Press Club.

Source: Kyiv Post